The St. Louis Blues have methodically worked their way through a long list of restricted free agents this offseason, bringing each one back for another shot at the Stanley Cup. All but one that is, as Ivan Barbashev is still without a contract. Today, Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic and Andy Strickland of Fox Sports Midwest have both been told that Barbashev is “looking at options on both sides of the ocean” by his agent Dan Milstein of Gold Star Hockey.
Barbashev, 23, broke out last season with the Blues, scoring 14 goals and 26 points in 80 games and being a regular in the postseason lineup. He was often part of one of the most effective fourth lines in hockey, but also used his versatility to play all over the roster. Earlier reports had contract talks moving towards a four-year deal with a cap hit somewhere around $2MM, but obviously things aren’t settled yet if he is looking at options in the KHL and elsewhere.
As a restricted free agent without arbitration rights, this is one of the only points of leverage Barbashev has in contract negotiations. Other than an offer sheet, he has no real way of forcing a contract in the NHL. As a depth player that is useful but not necessary, a contract holdout would likely not get him much closer to whatever he is looking for either. In considering his options overseas, Barbashev may simply be truly wondering if returning to Russia would provide him with a bigger opportunity. Milstein insisted to Rutherford that it “is not a negotiating ploy.”